Administration: Bingo Games Can Promote Food Stamp Use

Penny Starr | September 5, 2012 | 5:21pm EDT
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U.S. Department of Agriculture SNAP program (food stamp) card. (AP photo)

( – The USDA wants to add to the record 46.7 million Americans who receive food stamps, including seniors the agency says could be convinced to sign up for the government program through parties featuring games like Bingo and crosswords.

The tips for recruiting food stamp recipients are part of the agency’s 261-page tool kit issued in August 2011, which states the “campaign” is designed to increase the number of food stamp recipients, including seniors.

“The primary goals of the campaign are to increase enrollment in SNAP and to reinforce its role as a nutrition assistance program,” the tool kit states.

The tool kit includes advice on recruiting more seniors, who are indentified as a group as “potentially too proud to ask for government assistance.”

“Throw a Great Party,” one tip states under the heading “The Right Mix for Reaching Seniors.”

“Host social events where people mix and mingle,” the tip continues. “Make it fun by having activities, games, food, and entertainment, and provide information about SNAP.

“Putting SNAP information in a game format like BINGO, crossword puzzles, or even a “true/false” quiz is fun and helps get your message across in a memorable way,” the tip states.

The tool kit offers ways of “Addressing Barriers and Challenges” and tells recruitment workers to use “mini-scripts” to help them “overcome the word ‘No’ when trying to convince seniors to sign up for food stamps.

“For many in the Silent Generation, relying on “welfare” or any type of public assistance is not acceptable,” one mini-script states. “This generation of ‘self-sacrifice’ was raised to be independent and self-reliant.

“They don’t want to ‘lose face’ in front of their peers,” the script states and then offers this recommended response:

“You worked hard and the taxes you paid helped to create SNAP,” the script states. “Now it’s time to let it help you buy the healthy foods you like to eat.”

The tips also include ways to avoid “embarrassment” and “welfare stigma” by applying for food stamps by phone or mail instead of going to the welfare office.

The tool kit also states that food stamps are good for the economy.

“SNAP brings Federal dollars into communities in the form of benefits which are redeemed by SNAP participants at local stores,” the tool kit states. “These benefits ripple throughout the economies of the community, state, and nation.”

Claims to that end include “facts” such as every $5 of food stamps spent “generates a total of $9.20 cents in community spending.”

On average, the tool kit states, “$1 billion of retail food demand by SNAP recipients generates 3,300 farm jobs.”

But staff for the minority on the Senate Budget Committee told that claims that food stamps stimulate the economy defy logic.

“By that logic, why only spend $80 billion a year?” the staffer told “If food stamp spending stimulates the economy, why aren’t we spending $500 billion?”

In June, ranking committee member Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) called for a “top-down” review of the food stamp program.

“It is time for a top-down review of USDA to examine how the food stamp program is administered,” Sessions said in a press release. “The overriding goal that demands constant and intense focus is to move people from temporary assistance to permanent employment.

“We must review the tactics USDA has employed that have resulted in an unprecedented quadrupling of the food stamp budget and an apparent lack of respect for the individuals they are seeking to enroll,” Sessions said.

According to data analyzed by SBC Republican staff, the number of Americans receiving food stamps has doubled since 2008 and quadrupled since 2001.

“Welfare support should be directed to those in need,” Sessions said. “It should be temporary whenever possible, and the ultimate goal should be to help people realize financial independence.

“The evidence is mounting that USDA views its portion of the nation’s welfare budget with a very different goal: pushing, even intimidating, people who do not wish to receive assistance, including non-citizen immigrants, into enrolling for benefits they claim they do not need or wish to receive,” Sessions said.

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